e.e. cummings' poem, "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond" speaks of a love for a woman, not a child.
There are many lines that seem to infer that the poem is about the woman a man loves.
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
In this stanza (like a four-line paragraph), I get a sense of a give-and-take relationship between two people. The speaker has never traveled in this "region" before, which I see in terms of a new relationship, or new "territory" in an existing relationship. If I were to write, "frail" would denote a lack of strength (an allusion at the time to the "gentler sex"), whereas "fragile" would make me think more in the terms of a baby. There is a paradox in this relationship—the woman's frailest gesture has the power to "enclose" the speaker. Another paradox occurs in that he cannot touch these "things" because they are too near. This may speak of his close emotional proximity: "too near" might indicate a personal connection that he might not know how to handle. Or, he may need some emotional distance to figure things out, which we often cannot achieve when we are too close to something.
The next stanza also speaks of a woman:
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose
The idea of being closed indicates a protective stance (or inexperience) on the part of the speaker. Babies don't engage in slight looks: adults do. Babies seem much more focused taking in everything they see. "Slightest look" give me the sense of a casual glance. I also don't think that adults close themselves against babies, but open their hearts to them, and lose something of themselves to the infant—forever. The speaker notes that "her" look can make him open up, though he has (till this point) closed himself as fingers. The woman is able to open the man's heart, and we can infer gently—as she opens him one petal at a time, a gentle time-consuming work, and as "Spring" opens roses, also a gentle process. The phrase "touching skillfully, mysteriously" also alludes to a woman rather than a baby.
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
The speaker then seems to note that his heart will close quickly again, if he senses a lack of warmth from her, seen as the falling of "snow."
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility...
rendering death and forever with each breathing
Here may be a sexual or emotional inference. Referred to in a sexual context or used in literature, "la petite mort" ("small death) can apply to a sexual experience or to a bad occurrence that makes one feel something "small" has died inside.
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
The speaker does not understand what welcomes him and shuts him out. A look affects him deeply; the "small hands" I believe refer to her ability to reach into the smallest part of his being, the inner chambers of his heart, to touch him as nothing else can.
I've always been fascinated by this poem. I have to disagree with the previous commenter's categorical statement that the poem -must- be about romantic love, and thus can't be about the love of a newborn child. Most of the best poems (and this is one of them) can work on multiple levels. This one this case works well as an expression either of romantic or filial love. Personally, I happen to think it works slightly better read in the paternal voice.
I included this poem in correspondence with my wife-to-be some eighteen years ago, and at that time I considered it solely as a love poem. But some time after our daughter was born (fourteen years ago), it occurred to me of a sudden that another reading of it was not only possible, but likely a more apt and powerful one.
The poem was first published in 1931. By that time cummings' own daughter was twelve years old and he was estranged from her due to custody battles with his first ex-wife. But we don't actually know when "somewhere i have never" was first conceived, and in any case, poets don't need inspiration to be contemporaneous with creation... sometimes inspiration gestates, or later experiences layer new insights onto old experiences. The best we can say is that historical and biographical context doesn't provide us with much help one way or the other.
But the text of the poem lends itself in many ways to the paternal, filial interpretation.
If cummings is referring exclusively to a lover, the lover seems oddly small and frail.
"in your most frail gesture..." Why would a lover's gesture be frail?
"the power of your intense fragility..." Is there anything more intensely, breathtakingly fragile than an infant?
"nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands..." An infant's hands are exquisitely small, eliciting all manner of poetic associations.
Many other lines simply make more sense when read with an infant in mind, starting with the opening.
"somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence"
cummings had a passionate and tempestuous love life. obviously infatuation with a new lover can feel unprecedented, overwhelming, i.e. "beyond any experience." But becoming a parent for the first time, even more so. The feeling of looking on one's child for the first time... how truly we grasp that we enter wholly uncharted waters. And an infant's eyes, so often gray and blank and inscrutable, are silent beyond words... I'm not sure a lover's, lit as they are by emotion and experience, are as aptly characterized that way.
"your slightest look..." Infants do indeed give slight looks. Their eyes are most often unfocused, drinking in a confusion of visual stimuli that they've not yet learned to distinguish. But in rare moments an infant will seem, if only for a second, to look right at you... right into you. Its slightest look can undo you, open you, close you, inspire a welter of emotions disproportional to what's actually occurred.
"nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility"
Again, what is more intensely fragile than an infant? Their rapid, fluttery breath, their susceptibility to all manner of strange afflictions and dangers, their helplessness, their total dependence on you... infants can actually stop breathing in their sleep, god forbid, and for reasons which are not even fully understood... and yet they are the future, one's own future, our collective future, pure potential, to live, to do, to be, to last beyond us... truly they are:
"rendering death and forever with each breathing"
Other relevant references I see are the allusion to the closing of fingers -- one of the most basic reflexes an infant possesses is to make a fist around something that touches its palm, like a parent's finger; and the reference to Spring's first rose -- symbols (Spring and the rose) of rebirth, the cycle of life, a new life opening to the world, all the skill and mystery of nature epitomized in one image, one seminal moment.
Anyway... again, I think the poem works on both the romantic and the paternal levels, but overall I prefer the paternal... it seems to fit all the conscious choices that cummings has made in this poem that much more elegantly.
It's hardly surprising, though, that so beautiful and captivating an expression of love would fit many different occasions of it.